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Guide to the "Degenerate Art" Exhibition (1937)

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Group 5
This section of the exhibition provides insight into the moral side of degenerate art. For the “artists” represented here, the entire world apparently is one big brothel, and to them humanity is made up of harlots and pimps. Among this painted and drawn pornography are drawings and paintings that cannot even be shown in the context of the exhibition “Degenerate Art” when one considers that women will visit this show as well. It is completely incomprehensible to any individual of today’s Germany that just a few years ago, even in the times of Center Party rule under Heinrich Brüning, such abysmal vulgarity, such squalidness and clearly exposed criminality was allowed to appeal to the basest instinct of sub-human beings unhindered. Yet one thing must not be overlooked: the ultimate objective of this side of degenerate art, too, is political. This can be seen from the fact that almost all of these vulgarities also display clear Marxist-class warfare tendencies. Time and again, we see drawings on which lechers from the “propertied class” and their harlots are contrasted with the starving figures of “proletarians” tiredly dragging themselves along in the background. In other drawings, the harlot is idealized and contrasted with the woman of bourgeois society, who, according to the creators of this “art,” is much more morally corrupt than the prostitute. In short: the moral agenda of Bolshevism screams at the viewer from all walls in this section.

Group 6
Here, a larger number of works serve to illustrate how degenerate art often served that part of Marxist and Bolshevist ideology whose goal is this: the systematic elimination of the last remnants of all race consciousness. While the harlot was portrayed as a moral ideal in the pictures in the previous section, we now encounter the Negro and the South Sea Islander as the apparent racial ideal of “modern art.” It is hard to believe that the creators of these images call Germany or Europe home or at least did so at the time. Yet it must be stressed that this nigger art also is so barbaric in terms of craftsmanship that many a Negro would justifiably refuse to see people of his own kind in these figures or even be accused of being the creator of such pictorial works.

Group 7
This section of the exhibition makes clear that apart from the Negro as a racial ideal, the “modern” art of the time also had one very special intellectual ideal, namely the idiot, the cretin and the paralytic. Where these “artists” portrayed themselves or each other, the results are extremely cretinous faces and figures. Judging by the rest of the works, this may not always be a fundamental decision against actual likeness. It is certain, however, that each stupid, idiot-like face has particularly inspired the creativity of the “modernists” represented here. Otherwise, it cannot be explained why this section of the exhibition is so rich in sculpture, graphic works, and painting. It shows human figures who, in fact, have more in common with gorillas than with humans. There are portraits compared to which the first historically verified attempts at depicting humans found in Stone Age caves are mature masterpieces. Yet until a few years ago, as the purchase prices show, the highest prices were demanded and paid even for such atrocious pieces.

Group 8
For the sake of variety, only Jews are represented in this small room. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, it should be mentioned that this is only a small selection of the numerous sorry efforts by Jews that the exhibition shows overall. The great “merit” that the Jewish spokespersons, dealers, and supporters of degenerate art have doubtless earned, sufficiently justifies this “special honoring.” It is here that we can find, among other things, “the new human being,” as the Jew Freundlich has conjured him. Other sculpted and painted desert dreams can be found standing and hanging here as well, in the face of which words must fail us.

Group 9
This section can only be titled “Complete Lunacy.” It takes up the largest part of the exhibition and includes a cross section of the spawn of all the “isms” that Flechtheim, Wollheim, and the “Cohn-sorts”* have hatched, promoted, and flogged over the years. In the pictures and drawings of this chamber of horrors it is impossible to tell in most cases what those sick minds were thinking when they picked up the brush or pencil. While one eventually “painted” using only the contents of garbage cans, another made do with three black lines and a piece of wood on a large white background. A third had the bright idea to paint “some circles” onto two square meters of canvas. A fourth consecutively used a good three kilograms of paint for three self-portraits because he could not decide whether his head ought to be green or sulfur yellow, round or rectangular, and whether his eyes are red or sky blue or whatever. In this group of madness, visitors to the exhibition only shake their heads and laugh. Certainly not without reason. Yet when one considers that all of these “artworks” were taken not from the dusty corners of deserted studios but from the art collections and museums of major German cities, where some of them still hung in the initial years after the National Socialist takeover and were presented to the astonished public, one can laugh no longer: all one can do is grapple with one’s anger at the fact that a people as decent as the Germans have been so gravely abused in such a manner to begin with.

[ . . . ]

* Jewish family names, especially the name Cohn, often formed the basis of anti-Semitic puns and other types of wordplay in German. The word Cohnsorten translates “as types of people like Cohn,” with Cohn being representative of a Jewish person. The term was used disparagingly – note by GHDI project staff.

Source of original German text: Entartete Kunst Ausstellungsführer. Berlin: Verlag für Kultur- und Wirtschaftswerbung, 1937.

Translation: Insa Kummer

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